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Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Muse of Vacation


Mural/Mosaic made with bottle caps


Why were you born voyager?
—Robert Hass

Hummingbird Medicine
Once a year for many years Dan and I have come to San Pancho, a village by the sea in Mexico, in winter, on vacation. To vacation is to vacate, to empty out—essential as an exhalation, as ebb tide and waning moon. For us it is a kind of annual Sabbath, a holy time to remember who we are and who we were.

To vacation is to let go schedules, traffic, everyday worries and rituals, to settle into a chaise lounge and listen to the ocean’s murmur and hush—our Mother Tongue, our origin. To watch Her is endlessly fascinating, Her rise and Her fall, Her great blue curl, white crash, spent swirls reaching for the beach.


To hear Her puts me in trance, in a reverie visited by hummingbird in intimate contact with pink hibiscus.


Hummingbird medicine, it is said, is all about beauty and joy, about the nectar of life, the love between plants and creatures—life-pollinating life. Hummingbird feathers will make you a love charm. Hummingbird sightings—the dazzle of tiny wings moving so fast they seem invisible, the bird hovering in mid air—return me to the realm of magic, the interpenetration of inside and outside, of earth, sky and water, of myth and fairy tale, birds and trees, stories and dream. The sound of the waves is cut by the whine of a saw cutting tiles for the house being worked on next door. There’s laughter by the pool, and somewhere, a Mexican love song on the radio.

“Look at those colors” says Dan, framing a shot with his ipad. He takes photos of beach restaurants: houses, playful details, birds, plants, flowers, spellbound by the radiance everywhere. The palette is different here. The bright green T–shirt I buy looks all wrong at home. But here it belongs to the joy of color.



















The ocean is azure at the horizon, goes aquamarine with patches of turquoise until the swell breaks radiant white. Seven brown pelicans swoop down, caressing the waters. There’s a bright orange beach umbrella, intense blue of the roof of the house on the cliff that was lost in a lawsuit. A girl in a purple bikini cavorts with her lover in the surf. A dad, with his lime green boogey board, falls off it numerous times, until at last he rides a wave triumphantly to shore. His daughter laughs. Houses are painted bright shades on the beach and off.



Sometimes when we’re lucky, the night is clear, and the sky reveals its splendor—great wash of Milky Way and countless stars—a sight we city dwellers are never granted at home. We look up, hungry for the bounty and the mystery, until our necks ache. Dan finds the Pleiades. We contemplate the ancients, their intimacy with all those shifting stories in the dark.

The Ballad of Time and Mutability


One of the most beautiful rooms in my life is the great room at Casa Obelisco, our B&B, where we gather for breakfast, meet strangers, hear origin stories about the town and its people. The gracious space, with three open arches framing the ocean view, and high ceilings rising to a cupola, has a Moorish flavor, remembers Southern Spain—the Great Mosque of Cordoba. Sunburst sconces light it in the evening, and star shaped lanterns fill the chapel like dome.


Outside the cupola is covered with Moorish blue tiles. We visit it to watch the sunset from the roof. It is a beloved ritual, to watch the sun go down as people have forever. Every sundown is the same and entirely different.





Time changes on vacation, especially when you stay in one place for two weeks, a place you’ve known and loved for so long. There is a timelessness about it—we’re here, we’ve been here, the gods willing we will be here again.

The Muse of this vacation is a ballad. The chorus is repeated. Our hosts discovered this enchanted place some twenty years ago, and built themselves and us a lovely B&B. They tell this story over breakfast many mornings, when entertaining newcomers. The chorus is the great room. The town is much the same and always changing. Each stanza tells the story of some new eating–place, some gone familiar place. There’s always someone building, someone tearing down. The old hotel nearby has been razed to the ground. There are differing rumors about what will be built there next. That beach restaurant we loved at sunset—where egrets flew into the palms above us, as the light dimmed—is gone. There is a new Italian restaurant right off the plaza, near St. Francis, the town saint. We sat there listening to three old guys talking rapid Italian, shades of Venice where we spent time a few months ago. Trance music, curated by a disc jockey, goes in loops, in circles, a kind of techno ballad—magical, at once familiar and strange, of now and of forever.

San Francisco (near the beach)

Time relaxes. Takes its own sweet time. The muse craves such time—time to ponder, time to get obsessed with a poem, work it, rework it, let it talk back to you in the night and show new facets of itself come morning. Time to forget the latest spasm of outrage in U.S. politics. Time to read the novel that sat on the floor of your study at home for months. Time to write about the time you’re having in your journal, make notes for your blog. Time to sleep in, to remember your dreams, to write them down and work with them. Time to meditate on Robert Hass’ “Meditation at Lagunitas.” Hass floats the notion that “a word is elegy to what it signifies.” I muse on that. My words reflect on what I love. They’re not the thing itself, not the crash of the surf, not the hummingbird. That’s gone, on invisible wings.

For me, much of the meaning in a stay put vacation is time to engage with such loss. Hass begins his poem, “All the new thinking is about loss./In this it resembles the old thinking.” How true of living into one’s seventies, where every pleasure glimmers with its loss, its built in mutability. It’s always been so, but now it’s more so. The B&B, that great room I love, is up for sale—has been for years. One day the market forces will shift and it will be gone. Some extended family from Mexico City will make it their beloved second home. And for us it will be a shadow, a longing, an old flame. My chapbook, The Little House on Stilts Remembers is all about such losses of place. Here is the opening poem:

Her Next Life

All the houses she's loved and sold
remember her
call her by name

What will her next life be? 

In the dream she must change
clothes    stitch mirrors
red thread
on deer skin dress
                             reflect her
                                    journey    temple dancer
                                                           stone chariot
                                                  river at sunset with elephants

All the pretty houses have peeled off
                                     like snake skin

Her feet are listening 
                  Song of the earth 
                                     holds her now



[Photographs -except for hummingbird- by Dan Safran]


Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Muse of Catastrophe

The Sister from Below Announces a New Series: 

The Poetry of Resistance

Hermes, Greek God of thievery, writing, roads, and more
                            
                                     The way of women     is our way   The moon swells
                                     the moon goes dark   pulling the tides    in and out
                                     The way of the trees     is our way   So raise up
                                     your branches   sisters   for we are one   gathering
                                     Soon sap   will rise   apple trees flower

                                     We’ll weave us a canopy    all over this land
                                     It will be uprising time    once again
                                                      in America
      —Naomi Ruth Lowinsky
      “Wishing in the Woods With Hillary”


The Muse of Catastrophe 

But who can resist this all–engulfing force…? Only one who is
firmly rooted not only in the outside world but also in the world within.
—C.G. Jung

Thoth, Egyptian God of Writing

In early 1933 Jung gave a lecture in Germany. He spoke of a “feeling of catastrophe” in the air. We are in such a moment in America. How do we withstand the “all–engulfing force” of chaos, hysteria, terror, and rage which rampages the land? How do we stay connected to our inner life, our deep natures when we are assaulted and over–stimulated by outrageous events and disturbing threats, haunted by ancestors who were slaves, refugees from catastrophe, stateless, disenfranchised, oppressed? Catastrophe, it turns out, can be a muse. That is what the Sister from Below whispered in my heart one day when I was feeling overwhelmed and impotent, struggling to find my mode of resistance. She said: “You’re a poet. You know many fine poets. Do what poets do. Use your blog to post resistance poetry. In times of catastrophe, the people need poetry.

But, you may ask, as did the poet H.D., “What good are your scribblings?” H.D. answers herself, in her great poem written during the catastrophe of the London blitz, “The Walls Do Not Fall:”

this—we take them with us

beyond death; Mercury, Hermes, Thoth
invented the script, letters, palette;

the indicated flute or lyre–notes
on papyrus or parchment

are magic, indelibly stamped
on the atmosphere somewhere,

forever; remember, O Sword,
you are the younger brother, the latter–bon,

your triumph, however exultant,
must one day be over,

in the beginning
was the Word.


H.D. is claiming the power of the Word over that of the Sword, the power of Creation over that of Destruction. And yet we know she wrote this during wartime, when all she held sacred was threatened and her city was in ruins. When our souls are battered, our hearts broken, is often the time when we open to the deep river flow of poetry, when we find words to “translate the dry rattle of the newscast into image and myth. Poetry says the unsayable, bears the unbearable, speaks for the voiceless, transports us into the spirit realm, the ancestor’s lodge, ushers us, in Jung’s words, through the “small and hidden door that leads inward.”

A Poem by Daniel Polikoff
The first Poem of Resistance came to me by synchronicity. It was during the recent storms which caused flooding, mudslides and other disruptions in Northern California. The national news was disturbing, causing political storms and public displays of resistance all over the country. At the time I was in dialogue with the Sister from Below, about catastrophe as muse, about poetry as medicine for the soul, about devoting my blog, for the duration, to Poems of Resistance, when a beautiful poem showed up in my e-mail, by Daniel Polikoff. I knew when I read it that I wanted it to open this series.

The weather and the news remind us of Biblical stories of catastrophe as an expression of God's wrath. This is where Polikoff goes in his poem, only his focus is on a "heavenly mother...weeping/for her lost children." The poem's speaker voices our grief and disorientation, and names our collective shadow, for we have "gone forth and built/sky-scratching cities," and we have "forgotten/her name." This is the voice of the prophets--those ancient poets of resistance.

Weeping Icon


Flood
February 7, 2017

Rain floods the streets and overflows
river banks and inlet sluices,
pours from the water-bearing sky
as if a heavenly mother were weeping

for her lost children. The puddle on the red-
brick patio; the streams that run
down the twin cheeks of Spring Drive;
the spreading lake that drowns the footpath—

tears, all tears. For she who bears us
endlessly in her heart
is weeping, weeping endlessly
over her children, the numberless

ones who no longer know her,
all the children who have forgotten
her name. They have gone forth
without regard; gone forth and built

sky-scratching cities; gone forth
and closed their doors against her,
locked their gates and bolted the chambers
of their steel domes. She has come

often to those proud towers; come
and rattled the gate-chains; come
and wrapped upon the heavy doors
of their bronze hearts. But they

do not choose to hear her soft
or loud alarms; dumb and unmoved,
they stand upon their feet of clay,
statues in the hall of a putrid king.

And so the widespread waters of pain,
the tears of grief and of mourning
pour from the sockets of heaven, pour
ceaselessly down, as once did

the flood that drowned the earth—
for the wrath of the Father
and the Mother's deep sorrow
will not part like ancient seas.

Daniel Joseph Polikoff is a poet and internationally recognized Rilke scholar. The most recent of his six books are Rue Rilke (a creative non-fiction account of his initiatory Rilke pilgrimage) and a new translation of Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus. Daniel lives with his wife and family in Mill Valley, and will be teaching a course at Pacifica Graduate Institute this spring. For more information see danielpolikoff.com

"Tower of Babel" by Lucas van Valckenborch


Announcement 

Naomi Ruth Lowinsky will be a speaker, along with Steven Nouriani and Carolyn Bray on The Role of the Divine Feminine in the Transformation of Consciousness. The program will take place on March 18th at the SF Jung Institute, 9:30 -1:30. We need Her right about now. Please join us.

[https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-role-of-the-divine-feminine-in-the-transformation-of-consciousness-tickets-26502497684]

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Muse of a Younger Self



How Do I Get Back to You?

The Faust Woman Poems are about to come out. I have held the advance copy in my hands and mused about the wistful tug from my younger self that was one of many inspirations for this collection. She wants to be heard. Or maybe it’s that my aging body and soul need her voice, her “river glitter,” her “marijuana music” and “Kama Sutra dances” to sweeten and deepen my sense of my own life and that of my generation. Here is a poem I wrote for her:

In Memory’s Pan

You are river glitter
You with the long wavy hair
You with the questions

Once you saw molecules flow
    in a tree branch
Sat on a river rock
    in that old blue skirt

(Someone outside you was watching)

Now salmon have trouble leaping
Oak trees send their dead
                        downstream
I have woven marijuana music
  Kama Sutra dances
All the colors of fire
  into a shawl to wrap us both

  My pretty one
  O my fleeting one

How do I get back to you?
                     The Faust Woman Poems

Just as the final details for the book were being completed I got to see her again, or one much like her. She showed up in an Antonioni movie I’d never seen before—Zabriskie Point.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Muse of the North

The region to the north…is the seat of the highest gods and also the adversary…
—C.G. Jung

From the North comes the power to keep silent…to keep secrets, to know what not to say. The Goddess as Dark Maiden, the new moon that is not yet visible, and the God as Sacred Bull are the totems of the North…
—Star Hawk in The Spiral Dance
I can remember, decades ago, a parade of my elders heading North to Alaska. They took cruises, or traveled on Elder Hostel journeys, returning with a new light in their eyes; they’d loved it. I never understood exactly what it was they loved. I was in my busy mid life. I didn’t really listen, didn’t really take in, what their joy was all about. Now I know. Dan and I have recently returned from such a trip to Alaska, and there’s a new light in my eyes.

We left in the middle of June. I was feeling disoriented in life and in our country, devoured by the daily news cycle, unable to see what kind of drama we are in. Is it a farce, a tragedy, a soap opera, a crime drama, a reality show, a vast right wing conspiracy? Are we watching “Saturday Night Live,” “The Sopranos,” “House of Cards,” “The Americans,” “The Apprentice?” My Muse complained bitterly. She felt hijacked by the manic spirit of our times, unable to dive down into the depths where She usually lives. It was time to take my Muse on vacation. Dan’s Muse came along too. She’s the one who takes photos.

At the airport the TV screens were all about the Warrior’s victory, which cast a glow on people who, even in endless lines at Starbucks, were good humored and kind. This seemed a good sign as I tried to shake off the Senate Intelligence Committee hearings, the Attorney General claiming not to remember anything at all about his associations with the Russians.

I thought of my paternal grandparents, who fled Russia in the early years of the twentieth century to escape Russian pogroms and the dread twenty-five year draft for Jewish men. The Russians were stirring up a ruckus in my heart. I can hear my father’s voice: “Russians are passionate, they are wild, they are profound and mystical, they are wily and can’t be trusted.” I am descended from Russian Jews. I spent much of my adolescence engrossed in Russian novels. My ideas about life were shaped by Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, Anna Karenina and Crime and Punishment. Is Russia my “old country”? Are the Russians ancestors, enemies, or both? In the grips of a culture complex inflamed by our dangerous times, I was haunted by the catastrophes my family had escaped. Our trip to Alaska snapped me out of it! So did a dream, in which I found a carved wooden Buddha—about the size of a chess piece—amidst the vegetable parings I was throwing away. The little Buddha’s right hand was holding his head in a look of amused dismay, as though to say, “Oh my, oh my.” I understood that this was the attitude I needed to cultivate.


What the Traveller Brings
I’d grown up fearing the coming hordes of Everything-Wanters.
Ordinary Wolves
 by Seth Kantner
Another helper was a novel, Ordinary Wolves by Seth Kantner, set in the Alaskan backcountry, among the Iñupiaq Eskimos. The narrator is a boy, Cutuk, who becomes a man in the course of the tale. His father, Abe, is a white guy from Chicago who has gone native. His mother, a native, has abandoned the family. They live a subsistence existence in the wild. Their home is an igloo built by Abe. Cutuk, whose tribal name clashes with his blond hair and blue eyes, gets picked on and scapegoated in the village where they go for supplies. The novel introduced me to a world I’ve never experienced, in which so little goes so far.
Abe had taught me to skin and dry foxes…And though we often used only the thick warm fur for mittens, he made me skin to save the toenails, tail, eyelashes—out of respect for the animal we’d taken.
Cutuk’s world is stark and wild and tender: “Our dogs raised their nuzzles to inhale the sweet scents of love, food and fights.” The story begins in the ‘70s, when the natives were entirely dependent on their sled dogs for transport in the cold North. In the isolation of such a life, the traveller is a welcome break from the every day, bringing news of other realms, and companionship. Enuk, an elder of the tribe, is a frequent guest in Cutuk’s childhood; he is the great hunter the boy longs to become.
My mother…was a fairy tale that kept fogging over, while Enuk, even vanished down river, stood in my life as sharp as a raven in the blue sky.
Cutuk showed me my shadow as a white person from the native point of view:
It was annoying and white to talk too much or ask questions, especially when a traveller arrived. Shaking hands, also, was a sign of being an outsider.
I was living a double life. One life happened in Cutuk’s world, in which everything he wore and ate was carefully taken from what the family hunted. In the other life—my “Everything–Wanter” life—I inhabited the glamour of our cruise ship—a magical vessel with beautiful staterooms and common areas. We sat in the aft of the ship, watching our wake, as the little yellow Pilot, our tugboat, pulled away, leaving us to the gray blue waves.

Seven Seas Mariner
Saxman Village Woods
Our first stop was in Ketchikan, Alaska, where we were transported by bus to the Saxman Village, home of a group of Tlingit people. They welcomed us travellers, made us feel valued, and showed us a video about their tribe. I remember the strength of the people’s faces, especially the women. The narrator thanked us for coming, said by doing so we helped them claim their heritage. Tears sprang to my eyes. Maybe there was a good side to being an Everything–Wanter. Our hosts were gracious, but they also teased us. They taught us a Tlingit phrase, an answer to their question, “How are you?” which we, being mostly old folk, promptly forgot. We were the slow children and they the authorities in their own ways and language. In Alaska, there are no Indian reservations. I could feel the difference. We were guests in their house.

We were guests, also, on the lovely forest path we walked to see the totem pole collection. We were guests in the Beaver Clan House, made of red cedar, smelling like the forest—a sacred space painted with animal faces and a dark doorway like a vulva. On either side a beaver totem looked as though it was giving birth to a human.




An elder in a red and black costume, with beautifully stitched leg warmers and an impressive staff, introduced the dance, performed mostly by children. They were all decked out in their red and black tribal costumes, with their different clan totems on their backs: Eagle, Raven, Beaver, Halibut, Whale, Wolf, Frog. I had the sense they knew they all belonged to one another, but had plenty of room to be different from each other. I paid special attention to one boy, perhaps 12, who, like Cutuk in the novel, had blond hair and blue eyes. He sang and danced as passionately as did the others, and looked like he belonged to the tribe, or so I hoped. Dan and I were charmed by a toddler, who wandered around in her tribal finery, pacifier in her mouth. We learned that the Tlingit are a matriarchal culture, not surprising, given the quiet authority in the women’s faces and the values of Potlatch, expressed in a dance in which whites were invited to dance with the tribe, and honored by being wrapped in tribal robes.

Mother of the Forest
It felt strong and good to be near mountains without names.
—Seth Kantner Ordinary Wolves
Our ship slipped through gray waters, past dark green forested shores, hills fingered by mists, mountains streaked with snow, sudden waterfalls. There was something at once breathtaking and mesmerizing about the ship’s slow passage along steeply wooded cliffs and rocky shores, as the waters glided away from us. My Muse had made a full recovery, and was busily writing down images phrases for this blog about voyaging north. I had cut myself off from the news. There was space in me, and silence.


We made an excursion to the Mendenhall Glacier. This was important to us. Though we had liberated ourselves from the Washington drama, we were still reeling from our President’s decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accords. I wanted to pay my respects to the glacier, while it still lived. I was amazed at the power of its presence, glowing blue and white. It has been retreating for hundreds of years, going back to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Behind its great mass arose an unnamed mountain range, which looked like a fairy tale city.

The story of the glacier was more nuanced and complex than I had understood. It was told to us by a Forest Ranger, a young woman who improvised a charming story about the sick glacier and the black bear who loved it. She spoke in the voice of the dying glacier, getting weaker and slower. She spoke in the voice of the black bear who was grateful for the life the glacier gave her. She spoke of the love between them, the interpenetration of species at all levels of being. For the glacier creates new life as its retreating weight grinds rock into silt, which flows into waterways and provides nutrients for fish and other creatures. In its dying the glacier created the Tongass National Forest, a vast temperate rainforest, luxuriant with hemlock, yellow cedar, alder, pine, and Sitka spruce—known by the natives as “The Mother of the Forest.”


The forest as a whole is a fertile mother, a generous mother, producing flora and fauna in the cyclical dance of death and rebirth. I said to the Forest Ranger, “that’s a more nuanced story than the one we hear in the lower forty-eight.” She nodded. “The glacier is not just about death. It is a creator of life. But,” she added, “what will happen when the glacier is gone?”

The Mother of the Forest, as Sitka spruce, provides food and shelter for the bald eagle family we visited in a small boat. These impressive birds mate for life. They stand three feet tall and have a wingspread of six to seven feet. The pair we visited were protecting their enormous nest, in which, we were told, there were three chicks. To see our national symbol in the wild, as such a stirring, devoted creature, shifted something in me.


The Mother of the Forest, provides nourishment for the humpback whale. We were part of a gathering of strangers on a catamaran, bonded in awe and reverence as we watched the great whale blow, breach and dive, displaying her black flukes with distinctive white markings. Every whale, we were told, has different markings. Her name, the naturalist told us, is Flame. She comes every summer to the feeding grounds of her youth, and spends the winter near Maui. Some years she has a calf with her. Not this year. These whales had been on their way to extinction. But since industrial whaling was forbidden in the 1970s, the population has come back dramatically. “Thanks to you,” the naturalist said, “who make seeing whales a profitable business for Alaska.” Again, as when we were thanked by the Tlingit people, tears sprang to my eyes. Compared to Cutuk and his people I was certainly an Everything–Wanter. But perhaps maybe there is something to be said for us Everything–Wanters, at least those of us who want to see whales, grizzlies, wolves, to engrave them in our psyches, to shoot them with our cameras, instead of wanting to shoot them dead.


As our ship took us through the Inside Passage we saw more dazzling scenery created by receding glaciers. We sat in the aft of the boat, sipping an aperitif, and watched the glory of all this creation pass by us—a surround of jagged mountains rose above the rainforest. It was almost summer solstice and the sun stayed up late with us. In the long, long evening the waters were smooth and blue gray. The first growth forests gave way to saw tooth mountains behind silent mountains beyond silent castles of rock and ice—a parade of odd angles, askew ridges, jagged mystery. I knew I was in the presence of gods that gave no thought to human concerns. I watched my fellow passengers put down their iPhones and gaze at the mystery. The sun dreamed on through an endless twilight, and finally called it a day long past 10pm.


In Sitka we saw the Russian influence in architecture and history. The Russians came two hundred years ago to hunt sea otters, whose beautiful pelts were used to make expensive fur coats. The otters were hunted almost to extinction. Thanks to a ban on hunting them for all but native Alaskans, the charming creatures have made a remarkable comeback. We were delighted to see one, floating on his back in the middle of Sitka Sound, admiring his webbed toes. We learned his fur is so dense that he can float, effortlessly. He has an opposable thumb and uses tools to open clams. Somebody said, “Hand him a martini!”


The Great One
That wolf—how many miles and years had he walked under this smoky green light? Walked cold, hungry, in storms, wet under summer rain, walking on this land I’d always called my home…How was it that I’d never considered carefully that an animal could know infinitely more about something than I could?
—Ordinary Wolves by Seth Kantner
On the Solstice, we arrived at Seward. Here we had to say goodbye to our lovely ship, and clamber unto a tour bus, which would take us to Denali National Park. The mountain, Denali, was named by the Athabaskan Indians, “the high one,” “the great one.” We were blessed. Denali revealed herself again and again as we were driven from Seward to Anchorage. This doesn’t usually happen. Only 20 % of visitors get to see the mountain, which is over 20,000 feet high, the tallest mountain in North America. We saw her again the next day, on our bus tour of Denali. Our eloquent bus driver/tour guide said: “You never know when she’ll show up, or not.” He said the same thing of the animals. We were blessed again by the sight of a mother grizzly, playing with her two cubs. She lay on the ground and pawed at them. They climbed all over her.

A Park Ranger had climbed unto our bus to greet us when we first entered Denali National Park. She got political. She told us the park was celebrating its centennial this year. She said it was a treasure of a park, an intact ecosystem—no invasive plants or creatures—one of very few left in the world. Protect it, she said. And please tell your congress people to support it. The bus full of strangers applauded. We were all on a pilgrimage to see wildlife. We were in the company of people who yelled “Moose on the Right!” “Eagle in the pine tree to the left!” “Caribou in the ice fields!” Poor caribou. They are created for weather that is 50 degrees below zero. It was 60 degrees above zero and they sought out what ice was left to lie on; they are suffering climate change.

Our time to return home began to loom. My dreams expressed alarm. In one dream children were being hit over the head with two by fours, which was how I imagined I’d feel returning to my life in the “lower forty-eight.” Obama showed up in another dream, his back to me, piloting a ship in dark waters. Back in the Eskimo world of Cutuk, things were terrible. He was a young man now, who had become a fine hunter. But, influenced by his sister, whose life expanded when she went to the city, he made the journey to Anchorage, and suffered profound culture shock:
Hotels with a hundred windows loomed. The roar was constant. Nothing at home was this frantic…Everything had words. As if someone had cut up a magazine, glued it to the sky. No reading the river, snow, ice, tracks—the city took it literally; reading signs meant reading signs.
He felt the suffering of trees: “Trees stood alone, dreary and dripping and surrounded, roots weighted under heavy stone.” He was mad at the city “for taking the animals’ beautiful land and turning it into ridiculous things: parking lots and strip malls, pensions, section lines and new hair styles.” He realized something that I was beginning to understand: “more than in wind or cold or [spring] Break up, the power and absoluteness of wild earth resided in its huge, uncompromising silence. Anchorage conquered silence, left not a trace.” Cutuk returned home to the backcountry, but home had changed. Sports hunters used snow mobiles to murder wolves. The village where he got supplies was not what it had been. Electricity and machines changed everything.
Suddenly, the past was over. It would never come back to protect us. We’d been pretending as well as any actors. The chasm between legends around the fire and surround–sound TV, snowshoed dog trails and Yamaha V–Max snowmobiles was too overwhelming, and no hunting, no tears, no federal dollars could take us back across. I felt an avalanche of grief…
The land of Cutuk’s grief, a land of ruined lives and many suicides, is “as haunting and beautiful as it had been ten thousand years before the introduction of sports hunters.” For Dan and me, who are city dwellers, livers of fast, noisy lives, it was a life altering experience. Now I can see that the light in the eyes of my elders, when they returned from their pilgrimages North, was the gleam of the silence of mountains, the mystery of wild landscape and wild creatures, a spiritual experience they would have called “Mother Nature,” a blessing whatever you call Her, be it Silence, The Great One, the Inside Passage, sea otter, Mother of the Forest, bald eagle, grizzly, or a whale named Flame.

The Great One

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Muse of Synchronicity: Part I

There is only one way and that is your way, there is only one salvation and that is your salvation. You must fulfill the way that is in you.
—C.G Jung 

The Light at the Core of Darkness, C.G.Jung

The Sister from Below
is delighted to announce that
Naomi Ruth Lowinsky and Lucille Lang Day
are co–winners of the
Blue Light Poetry Chapbook Contest for 2014.

Sisters of the Blue Light
Everything happens at once and forever.
—Lucille Lang Day

Behind this award, dear friends, lies a story of synchronicities. To Jungians, synchronicity is the Muse of Muses, those moments in your ordinary life when you’re touched by forever. You experience a “meaningful coincidence,” something that connects your inner world to the outer world. You’re walking in a meadow, for example, telling your companion about your dream of a coyote, when a coyote appears and engages you in that uncanny gaze across species. Your senses open to the radiant world; you feel touched by the eternal. Whatever has blocked you, whatever you’re stumbling through, opens up and your path is revealed. You can’t explain it rationally, but it is as though you are standing in the center of the kaleidoscope of your life, and suddenly all the fragments rearrange themselves into a new pattern, full of color and light.


That was how I felt when I got a phone call from Diane Frank, Chief Editor of Blue Light Press, informing me that I had won their chapbook contest, along with Lucy Day, who, unbeknownst to Diane, is a dear friend of mine. I had a visionary moment—saw how my path and Lucy’s had been interwoven over many years to culminate in this joint affirmation. I contemplated the chain of synchronicities that had brought us here. Blue Light Press, by the way, publishes visionary poetry. How fitting.

In our causality-oriented culture it is difficult to talk about such experiences without seeming slightly crazy. Jung struggled with this. He was a doctor, loved the sciences, respected causality and the scientific method of “breaking everything down into individual processes.” But, he pointed out, this attitude has the “disadvantage of obscuring the…unity of the world” which Jungians call the “Unus Mundus,” the one world in which everything is interconnected. The Unus Mundus, of course, is an ancient concept. Some call it the Tao, some call it The Tree of Life, some call it Brahman, some call it Grace. Mystics experience it, as do visionary artists. I feel so grateful to have my work published by a press that celebrates such vision.

Only the Blind Can See

Only Blind Willie Johnson
Can sing your way home

—Naomi Ruth Lowinsky

For years I’ve been sending chapbooks—small poetry collections—to contests. Chapbooks are a way to gather poems, often following a theme, into a coherent shape. My poems often demand to be put together in these small books. They want to make their way into the world in a larger form that an individual poem in a literary magazine. I can’t remember how many times I’ve submitted how many chapbooks to how many presses. Sometimes I get a nice note saying my chapbook “came close.” Mostly I get form rejections. You get used to this in poetry land. Over the years I’ve come to understand that this is a function of how many wonderful poets there are writing now. All you have to do is look at the recent issue #22, of Spillway, a fine poetry magazine, edited by Susan Terris. This issue’s theme is “Muse & Music.”

Of course my muse insisted I submit poems and was delighted when my poem, “Only the Blind,” was chosen. It is one of over a hundred poems that make uncanny connections and transport the reader into enchanted realms. Many of them reach that deep place, where ordinary life touches the Unus Mundus. Being a poet in America today is, for me, an exercise in humility. Perhaps there are so many amazing visionary poets writing because in our materialistic, fame-worshiping culture there is a great collective hunger for what only the inner eye can see.

Synchronicities are often inner experiences for me, and catalysts for poems. “Only the Blind” began when I heard a piece on the radio about the early gospel blues singer Blind Willie Johnson, and later that day read about Isaac the Blind, the 12th Century Rabbi who, it is said, first wrote down the oral tradition of Jewish mysticism we call the Kabbala. “Only the Blind can see” was the phrase that beat in me, joined by “You have always belonged to the moon.” Music was my muse in working on this poem as it frequently is. Here’s the poem:

ONLY THE BLIND

You have always belonged to the moon
Though sometimes it leads you astray

Past willows across the swinging bridge
To somebody’s grave by the river

Stuck in the cave of your skull
You grope for the disappeared moon

Down where it’s blue so blue
Only Blind Willie Johnson

Can sing your way home
Only Isaac the Blind can see

The banshee has got your bones
She’s beating her drum with your bones

And you’re stuck in the cave of your skull
No willows no swinging bridge

Who will plant you deep in the earth?
Who will water your toes?

When the banshee has got your bones
When she’s beating her drum with your bones

You have always belonged to the moon

Only Isaac the Blind can show you
That glow beyond the bridge

Only Blind Willie Johnson
Can sing your way home

Blind Willie Johnson

The Muse of Muses

I dreamed I flourished back in drenching turmoils from the land
into ocean of you and my spirit drifted into skies of you

—John Gardner

In my life the Muse of Muses, synchronicity, often graces me with Her presence when I feel stuck, lost, unsure of my path. The story of how I met Lucy Day is a good example of this. It happened 15 years ago. I had returned to poetry after a long absence. I’d been writing seriously, sending poetry out, learning to tolerate rejections, getting the occasional acceptance. My poems are both imagistic and musical and I knew I needed to be reading them aloud to poetry audiences. I also wanted to put together a book. I longed to be part of a community of poets but it felt scary to walk into some unfamiliar place and read my weird visionary poems to strangers. Maybe they’d think I was nuts.

One evening I screwed up my courage, walked into a coffee shop which hosted a regular reading, and signed up for the open mike. It was a scene. The espresso machine hissed and gurgled. All kinds of people read poems at the open mike, some very accomplished, some who seemed to have scribbled some raw deep feeling in a notebook that day. I was moved by the democracy of it all. Anyone who signed up for the open mike could read. The featured reader was a woman with a blaze of red hair named Judy Wells. She had just published a book of poems called Everything Irish, about growing up Catholic. Many of her poems were laugh out loud funny, about nuns, pagan babies, and her second grade class being the cause of their teacher’s nervous breakdown.

At the end of the reading Judy approached me, saying “Don’t you remember me? You and I were in a consciousness raising group together in the early ‘70s.” She introduced me to her publisher, Lucy Day. Lucy liked the poems I’d read. She said she’d decided to start her own publishing house, Scarlet Tanager Books, because so many good poets were not finding publishers. I asked if she’d consider publishing me. She invited me to send her a group of poems.

Suddenly I was in a community of poets with whom I had a history. Judy and I had become feminists together, and Lucy, it turned out, had found her voice in the Berkeley Poets Cooperative in the 1970s, as had I. I left the Co–op just before Lucy joined, but I knew Ted Fleishman, Lucy’s ex. It seems there are nodes in our lives, vibrant centers of connection and energy that resound into our future without our conscious knowledge. I was blind, groping my way in poetry land, convinced I was all alone, and then one night in a coffee shop poetry reading I realized I had a community, I had connections!

Lucy published my first book of poems, red clay is talking, in 2000 and my second, crimes of the dreamer, in 2005. Lucy amazed me, in fact she still does. She is so well organized, so capable. She taught herself the ropes of publishing. She seems not to be overwhelmed by the sorts of practical details that overwhelm me, and I assume, most poets. She is a scientist, a biologist, who for years was the director of the Hall of Health, a Science Museum for children. I know I’m not the only one who is forever grateful to her— she is so generous in her support of other poets.

Another synchronicity—a book came out last year, called The Berkeley Poets Cooperative: A History of the Times, edited by Charles Entrekin. It is a collection of essays by some of us who were part of the Co–op. As Entrekin says, the book is a testimonial “to a way of life that emphasizes beauty and human enlightenment instead of quarterly profits and unequal distribution of wealth. A cooperative way of life. It still seems possible.”

Lucy and I both have essays in this collection. Lucy writes about how she came to realize she is “more a writer than a scientist” at the Co–op. I wrote a memorial to my friend John Gardner, a Co–op regular who, I wrote, “was the first serious poet who took my poetry seriously.” He was an ecstatic, a mystic, a visionary who gave me the courage I needed to follow my own ecstasies. He died far too young.

Song of My Life

Some say a god made us humans out of red clay.
Some say we humans make our gods out of red clay.
Others say, it doesn’t matter who makes whom.
What matters is the play between the human and
divine realms, and the joy of creation.

—Naomi Ruth Lowinsky

Synchronicity is the Muse of Muses for visionary poetry. Both happen in the play between the human and divine realms. Elevated moods, intense feeling states are the context for the experience of synchronicity as well as for the writing of poetry. I remember how such a mood came upon me and led to my writing the poem, “before,” which opens my first collection, red clay is talking. During the intermission at a concert I ran into a colleague. She talked ecstatically about the joys of singing in a chorus, performing the great choral works in her own voice among many. I remember those joys. In college I got to add my voice to the glories of the Brahms Requiem and Bach’s Saint Mathew’s passion. But when my colleague insisted that I needed to join a chorus now, I was surprised at the bolt of fury that leapt through me. I saw myself in my childhood basement piano practice room, toiling over a Bach fugue, afraid my father would come thundering down the stairs to tell me that I was playing it all wrong. I heard myself say to my colleague in an intemperate tone of voice: “I was raised to sing other people’s songs. Now it’s my time to sing my own.” Out of that anger came this poem —my declaration of being a visionary poet— published by Lucy Day’s press, Scarlet Tanager Books:

before

life after life
I stand by the road
and look for a home

—Mirabai

she had been raised to sing
other people’s songs
but in the third morning of the new time
with the wisteria blooming outside her
kitchen window
and the shadow of the earth
about to fall upon the moon
she looked at the sky
the comet had inhabited
saw four geese fly east
toward devil mountain

heard the telephone ringing
the man in her house running
up circular stairs
calling her name

and suddenly remembered
the lips of the one who had sworn her
to silence
in dark waters
                            whispering—
                                                    wait for me—
                                                    one morning when the children are gone
                                                    I’ll call—

                                                    put on your brown sandals
                                                    wrap yourself up
                                                    in your tree of life shawl
                                                    come walk with me
                                                                                  to devil mountain

                                                                                                      singing the song
                                                                                                      we were singing
                                                                                                      before

                                                                                                           you
                                                                                                           were born

P.S. My chapbook, The Little House on Stilts Remembers, and Lucy’s Chapbook, Dreaming of Sunflowers: Museum Poems will be published in the spring of 2015. We’ll let you know when they come out.

To Be Continued . . .